How to Overcome Job Candidates’ Embellishment and Exaggeration

Guest post by Brad Remillard

On December 19, executive recruiter Brad Remillard presented “Advanced Interviewing: Eliminate Embellishment and Exaggeration,” the latest in our ongoing Catapult Groups Webinar Series. Here are highlights from the presentation. You can listen to Brad’s presentation in its entirety here.

interview candidate embellishing or exaggerating about accomplishments

Most job candidates embellish during their interviews—not intentionally lying but exaggerating their impact on the company they worked for, claiming responsibility for achievements that actually belonged to bosses and peers, and so on. Unfortunately, many hiring managers aren’t trained to probe deeply enough to separate truth from embellishment. Most people learn how to interview from the people who interviewed them. The result is far too many mediocre hires that waste time, money and resources for the hiring organization.

Everything Starts from the Job Ad

There are ways to defuse “accomplishment inflammation,” which I’ll come to shortly. A more crucial error is the creation of poor job descriptions. In general, these descriptions fail to define success on the job. This leads to vague interview questions, which makes it almost impossible to probe deeply and determine where a candidate exaggerates or embellishes. When you don’t define success up-front, you set yourself up for missing your desired outcomes and results.

What Goes into a Typical Job Description?

Here’s what we see most often:

  • Minimum years of experience
  • Minimum educational expectations
  • Minimum listing of duties, responsibilities, activities and tasks
  • Minimum skills and knowledge
  • Ambiguous definitions of behaviors and personality traits

This list doesn’t define top talent or high performance. All it does is defines minimum, average and mediocre.  A typical job description attracts minimum-level candidates, which leads to “crapshoot hiring”—rolling the dice and hoping the right person shows up.

A great job interview must start with a great job description. Define success in the role. Develop questions that align directly with that success. Remember, all you truly care about is whether the job candidate can meet the criteria you’ve defined and deliver the success you want. Whether or not they have a bachelor’s degree or MBA is really beside the point.

Which leads us back to the interview process.

How Do You Define Success in a Particular Position?

There are five core elements that you should focus on, and the following questions can give you an idea of how a candidate exemplifies those:

High initiative. In your current and past positions, can you give an example of where you have demonstrated high initiative?

Execution.  Can you provide examples of where you executed on a very difficult project or overcame obstacles to get the job done?

Leadership. Share your most significant success in leading a cross-functional team on a major project.

Past success. One of the most critical success factors in our business is [ insert your own company’s success factor here ]. Can you describe your most comparable success?

Adaptability/Cultural Fit.  How would the implementation of this success factor in our environment differ from your current environment?  How would you, once you came on board, go about achieving these desired results?

During the interview process, keep going until you know what you need to know or until it’s apparent the candidate is being elusive or downright lying. Whatever happens, don’t give in and assume things will work out. Some candidates are adept at changing the subject and making you think you’ve got enough information. If you see this happening, it’s a powerful signal that you don’t have the person you’re looking for.

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